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Free-access 'lock-in' stalls vs group yards for pregnant sows

These comments follow on from Vincent ter Beek's blog last week on the subject. This made me look up the file notes I have on 8 farms I visited recently who had installed the former and it must be over 50 who have gone in for group yards (12 on concrete slats and 38 with some, or really deep, straw).

This useful collection of farm records detailing space allowances, group numbers housed together, herd performance and most interestingly capital costs, allow me to come to some conclusions.

Observation 1. Group housing yards seem much more popular as Jacques and Harry said in their comments on Vincent's blog.

Observation 2. The successful practitioners of each system were those who applied the correct ground rules to each one – which are very different inter alia. Even more noticeable is that those breeders who confused the rules and applied those of one to the other got disappointing results, state of affairs then got a lot better when this was rectified.

Observation 3. One of the ground rules which is applicable to both but is absolutely critical in the case of free-access stalls, is to allow enough 'fleeing space' in the exercise/socialising area behind the back-to-back rows of stalls.

In many cases due to the desire to save on building overhead cover costs, not enough  depth of space is provided and not less than 3 metres (4 is better) behind each row of back-out stalls must be allowed for this. The problem is compounded again on set-up cost grounds when too many sows are penned together. For the free-access stall system 50 sows is too much in one pen and 10 to 12 each side is better. This will mean more dividing gates but the extra cost is only about 7%.

Observation 4.  My records from these 58 farms suggest that while the free-access stall layout can be more expensive than group-housed yard(s), this is not always the case - some were cheaper. Both systems benefit from the use of redundant/converted buildings and costs have varied as much as six-fold across both systems.

My experience – supported by real farm results like these – is that either system, planned well and then managed well, are welfare positive, allow the sow to do what she wants to do rather than what we force her to do, and that the performance of the breeding herd is little different, if at all.

In my next blog I will lay out some ground rules for the dry sow yard system, too. Within the system there are two distinctly different guidelines and if these two are mixed up, then trouble ensues! Watch this space!     
 

7 comments

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    Christiane Blanchet

    Someone may be able to answer my question...
    First as a female, and a female that has been bred, pregnant and weaned and rebred, I have quite a good experience.
    When I was young and mature enough to find a nice genitor, I used to like being in group and have fun ...After THE event, I liked a calm and relaxed atmosphere...no crowd ...and to relax on my own comfortable couch, with good food and a good drink (of course no alcohol!).
    When you are pregnant, it is pleasant to chat with friends but you don't want them all in your apartment. Watching movies at the theatre is also a nice activity, but you have your own place there as well. You are not afraid of being bitten, scratched or tortured in any way.
    And when you have the chance of having a private room when you give birth... it’s happiness..., the summit. A mother with the cutest offspring.
    So tell me why it is that some people absolutely want sows in group...

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    ISSACK MSANIFU WANNAH

    HALLOW VIEWS WHEN THE BIG COMPANY OF PIG PRODUCTIONS WILL MAKE A BIG STEP TO COME TO INVEST THE PIG PRODUCTIONS IN AFRICA?.THE WOLRD IS THE ONE VILLAGE WHY WE DID NOT SHARE THE THIS CAKE?.PLEASE COME TO INVEST IN FEED FARM FOR PIG FEEDER,ORGANIC PIG PRODUCTIONS.FOR EXAMPLE IN TANZANIA WE HAVE THE LAST BREED OF DANISH WHITE LARGE SINCE 1986 NOW THERE CROSS BREEDING.AFRICA WE NEED YOUR TECHNOLOGY EVEN YOU COUNTRIES HELP AS THE FUNDS PLEASE GIVE AS THE TECHNOLOGY.TEACH AS HOW TO CATCH THE FISH THAN TO GIVE AS THE FISH EVERY YEAR.PLEASE COME TO AFRICA ,COME TO TANZANIA FOR PIG PRODUCTIONS INVESTMENT.WE NEED MEAT WE NEED BREED, WE NEED TECHNOLOGY.PLEASE WELCOME

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    Blonde

    Well being a female is a good idea particularly when you can be with your mates. Whether being pregnant, or as a dry sow. Not so when you are about to have offspring, but you are still with them in the farrow pen, but you have your own flat/cubicle/hut. So you do have your own privacy when the day is due. When the offspring are around 10 days old you can all mix and still be free to socialize with your mates and your offspring can also learn to socialize which is important as pigs are sociable animals. So why not have pigs present in is form. Unless any body has any other ideas on the subject.

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    Christiane Blanchet,MV,Quebec,Canada

    When I saw the rules concerning the blog, I was sure I would not be published because I thought your magazine was very serious, and my comparison with humans was just funny because it fits. It helps to visualize... I wouldn't make the same comparison with sheeps.

    I am a vet who is very concerned about the welfare of pigs. Perhaps I could ask who you are, Blonde?

    I'm very disappointed with that blog... I thought some professional, veterinarian or zoologist would tell those who ignore that wild pigs are in little groups formed by two or three mothers and their offspring only. So if you force them to be in a bigger group, you may make a wrong projection. Aren't we supposed to respond to the animal real needs instead of demands from ignorant people about animal welfare???

    May we read from a credible professional concerned with the real welfare of domesticated animals?

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    John Gadd

    Christianne - I am a bit puzzled by your observations? Are you confusing
    1. Multisuckling where about 10 sows with litters are moved to a bedded communal yard or large pen with.....
    2. Group Housing of pregnant sows where large numbers of such animals (but 50 together is enough, I guess, for ease of management and daily inspection) are housed in large, preferably bedded, yards.
    Multisuckling (done to save on very expensive farrowing crate space) is tricky and needs great stockmanship skill - oversuckling of certain preferred sows in the group is one of several drawbacks. It is welfare-positive done well, and my experience is to advise newcomers never to attempt it until they have visited and learned from a breeder who has done it successfully for several years - and they are rather rare. They will then be able to assess whether they or their stockpeople are `up to it`.

    Group housing pregnant sows is very welfare-positive with good design of yards and then managed well subsequently. There are 3 really proven layouts which I will describe briefly in my next blog.
    Christianne - as to someone who "has the welfare of domesticated animals at heart" I was one of the first to come out against the dry sow stall some 30 years ago in my own country and got a lot of stick fom my readers! I said at the time that I was not against the dry sow stall itself but on my farm visits over the past 15 years saw too many were badly designed and as many as 68% sow stall farms being managed inadequately (I did a survey to try and justify my distinctly unpopular views). So I had to promote what I saw as more laborious but more welfare-positive systems of dry sow housing and have done so ever since.
    The penny is now starting to drop in N. America - long and stubborn adherents of the dry sow crate - and I hope you will add your influence as an obvious `caring veterinarian` to the embryonic yarding systems now being discussed over there of which we Europeans now have so much experience - from making mistakes in the formative days.

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    Christiane Blanchet,MV,Quebec,Canada

    Dear Mr Gadd,

    I’ve been working with pigs and farmers for more than 20 years and I never saw a better apartment than crates for gestating sows. I truly believe that sows in well built crates can be happy.

    When they are laying on a comfortable dry surface without manure and urine...with good air and good food...and a patient friendly farmer, they don’t need more. You can give them music or enriched environment in bonus ...

    I don’t like to compare with humans but the more I am with pigs and the more I think that we share a lot of similarities. As a human doesn’t need a castle to be happy, the pig is not very demanding.

    As a spoiled human, perhaps one would need a castle and more... to be happy? But in fact when you are healthy and you have a comfortable place to rest, enough food , good water, and love. You can be happy.

    The stockmanship as mentioned by another blogger is the major problem even if sows are comfortable. So I think we have to put our effort into education to demonstrate that a happy pig is economical because it performs. And grouping sows is not a good idea. It doesn ’t respect their nature and amplifies their agressivity.

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    Blonde

    Group housing is not a problem...not at all.

    Whether they be dry sows or farrowing sows....as long as the sows have enough space.... when in the dry sow pen to lay flat and be out of the weather that is all that matters. As long as they have a wallow and fresh water available to them that is fine also.

    All dry/farrowing sows/boars/growers are ad lib fed.

    Boars run with sows all the time...no AI here on this farm...all piglets are produced naturally.

    When time to farrow the sows go in to a community farrowing paddock. Each sow has a hut and she will find the hut she wants when she is ready. She will have a bale of straw in her hut when she chooses the one she wants.

    When she has had her piglets ...a door is put in place to stop her piglets leaving the hut... but she can come and go as she pleases. The sows that are put in to the paddock will farrow with in 14 days. At 4 weeks of age there is one weaning, smaller piglets are put back with all the sows to allow for a little more growth and a little more milk (now that the larger piglets have been taken away) and then weaned again at the end of the second week. Sows will feed others sows piglets with a hitch.

    A creep is available for the piglets with sows having no access.

    All sows are transferred to a dry sow paddock for one week along with a number of boars. Again ad lib feed is available at all times.

    This begins the process for the sows all over again.

    The growers are all able to have a hut large enough for all of them, a wallow and feed and water available at all times.

    Weaners/Growers/Finishers run in their respective groups in paddocks with a hut large enough to accommadate all the animals.

    So I dont see a problem with group housing because that is all I do!

    I am also a Free Range Pig Producer!!!

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